Archive for the ‘speaking’ Category

I was slightly taken aback when one of our church members – a friend and supporter of mine – joked to her husband that she listens to me 40-minutes every Sunday. Trust me, no one knows better than I do when I stray over my allotted time. In fairness, my sermons are typically about 30-minutes, not 40. A co-worker complained to me once that a particular sermon was 38-minutes (I could tell she had only checked the time stamp on the podcast and hadn’t listened to it. There was more recorded than the sermon and she hadn’t been in worship to hear it the first time. That sermon was 30-minutes). However, she was right in that my sermons are longer than (1) I was trained to make them, (2) have typically preached them in the past and (3) than I grew up hearing others preach their sermons.

What’s more, I’m not the only one who is preaching longer. As I examined the podcasts I listen to, began paying attention to the length of the sermons I watch online in the early hours of Sunday morning, talked to local preachers and perused all types of church websites, I’ve noticed something: Hardly anyone preaches 20-minutes sermons anymore! As a matter of fact, recently we had  a family join our congregation only to leave a month later. When I encountered the husband one morning in BestBuy, he reluctantly confessed he left because of “the teaching.” Surprised by his bluntness, I stepped back. He continued, “Sorry, Pastor, It just wasn’t enough. I need an hour of teaching; 50-minutes at least.” I’m finding that while attention spans in America may be getting shorter, sermons are getting longer. And there are 4 reasons why!

1. Biblical Illiteracy. When Rochelle and I came to Northern California we wanted to break out of the Bible Belt. We got all that and more. In the last 20 months we’ve had folks ask us if Abram and Abraham are the same person, who the “Lamb” is in reference to songs we sing, and hosts of questions we had answered for us in VBS as kids. It is an honor to introduce new people to the scriptures. We can never fault people for not knowing the basic narrative of the Bible, but it does mean that during the preaching event, nothing can be taken for granted. Each week preachers have to cover more of the narrative than they used to because many in the congregation don’t know it. This is especially true out of the Bible Belt and for churches growing with lots of non-churched people.

2. Children’s Ministry. In my childhood church there was no such thing as children’s ministry. And no one envisioned children’s church and the plethora of fun teaching environments my kids enjoy. That meant as my brother and I fidgeted in church, my mom and dad had to control/ entertain us. In this environment, the preacher received tacit (and overt) signals to stand up, speak up and shut up. With kids outside of the preaching event and experiencing specialized programs that need quite a bit of time themselves, there is opportunity to teach more – and longer. When I was young, worship services were one-hour, now I don’t know a church that’s less than an hour and a half, and many are two hours. As a matter of fact, our children’s minster recently told me that a slew of the programs available to purchase are now in 2-hour formats.

3. Better Presentations. Sermons are more entertaining/interesting than ever. As a youth all my preachers had in their arsenal was the Holy Spirit and their personal rhetorical skills. Nowadays, there are videos, props, object lessons, dance teams, dramas, etc…. Preachers can use the full weaponry of their creativity and because churches are now filled with adults who came of age in modern-day youth ministry, audiences are used to and expect engaging, visual presentations.

4. No Sunday Night Services. Again, when I was young, we worshipped on Sunday morning & Sunday night. That meant there were more opportunities for teaching in the life of the church. Let’s face it, most folks in our churches only get the weekly sermon in terms of spiritual formation and education. Of course, it shouldn’t be that way, but it is…for most! Increasing the sermon a few minutes helps make up what used to be standard.

The miraculous part is that many of the churches with longer sermons — think Francis Chan, Tim Keller, Rob Bell and Andy Stanley (all who go a MINIMUM of 40 minutes) — are growing. These pastors, and many much lesser known churches, are growing and impacting their communities. Longer sermons seem to be a trend…and I think, within reason it’s good.

The challenge for preachers is to maximize the time. If you’re not a gifted communicator, cut back. If you are, continue to master your craft. It matters less how much time you take, what matters is the time you waste.

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P.S. Sermons from Redwood Church can be subscribed to via iTunes.

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If both your mission and the communication around your mission aren’t clear and easy, you’re frustrating both yourself and your constituents. I’ve been saying this for some time now, but amazingly, I get more push back than you’d expect.

In the last few weeks I’ve had multiple conversations with new bloggers and non-profit organizations about fine-tuning both their mission and communication streams. My axiom has been: Be generous, Be helpful. Initially, everyone agrees, but when I move on to highlight that constituents want things easy, simple and clear, my audiences have appeared shocked. But my instincts are nevertheless true. Whether you’re a CEO, teacher, pastor, writer, therapist…whatever, your constituent’s lives are intensely busy, their concerns are monumentally large, and their time is magnificently short. If you want to lead them, you have to wrap your arms around your phenomenal mission and contract it into bite-sized chunks for your constituents.

Yet in so many industries (especially the church), the professionals make accessing the pertinent information hard for the populace. We don’t mean to, we just do. And I think I know 3 reasons why. See if you make these 3 mistakes while formulating your communication:

1.  You’re A Intellectual Snob – You like demonstrating that you’re smarter than most everyone else so you use every big word you know and you employ the jargon of your scholastic guild. Whenever you can you turn your staff meeting, sermons, blog posts, etc…into your greatest hits from graduate school, you do. If that’s you, here’s a tip: The people you’re communicating with aren’t stupid, they’re just outside your field. They don’t know your field and don’t care about the intricacies of it. And, by the way, the sign of a truly smart person is the ability to explain complex things simple.

2. You Had To Learn It – Speaking to a physician years ago, I asked why resident doctors had to keep such long, insufferable hours which made them more likely to make medical mistakes. His response, “I had to do it.”  This notion is at play in a great deal of communicators. Since they had to learn Greek & Hebrew (or whatever they had to learn in school to do a job) they come to think no one can be a good Christian if they don’t know. In reaction, they make sure that their audience is forced to know the ins and outs concerning the peculiarities of their field.

3. You Don’t Want To Communicate – Know one says this, but it’s true. I’ve been apart of organizations that thoroughly believed they were elite. In order to keep this ruse alive the organization must remain small. Therefore, the more esoteric and ethereal the communication the better. And guess what, when you don’t want the masses, they know it.

Each of these are killers. Over the next week, review your most recent communications and see if these communication killers are at play in your world. I know, they are too often working in mine.

People question my insistence that preachers should ditch their points. Points, I have argued, are planted and buried with story, whispers and the inspiring word. People don’t need or want step-by-step directions and we’re not interested in the points. Do you need proof? Just think about the last time you read a “User License Agreement” on a computer program. Oh, wait, you didn’t read it. The reason is simple, you want to get on to engagement. Engagement rarely comes in 1…2…3. Below is perhaps the greatest proof ever.

In the previous post, I began making the case that preacher’s should ditch their points (or at least the way we usually make them). So if you decide not to deluge your audience with points when you preach, what should you do instead? It’s a good question. First, I must restate the simple fact that scripture does not come step-by-step, point-by-point. The entire canon forms one grand narrative. Scot McKnight’s, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, is an excellent source to help you unearth this truth. Therefore, when you and I decide to abandon the “points-preaching model” and adopt a more narrative form, we are not losing a sacred pedagogical tool; rather we are assuming (and it is an assumption), that teaching like Jesus taught is a better model. As a Christian, I assume that everything Jesus did, He better than anyone else did. Insomuch, Jesus should be imitated whenever possible.

So, you ask, what should we do then after we ditch our pitiful points preaching? My answer, “Do what the text does.”

Here’s how to get started:

Assume the text(s) knows how to tell a story. When preparing your sermon try following the story of the text you’re preaching and sketch it out as one would a cartoon strip. Each move of the sermon should form a picture that tells a story, or at least part of one. The sermon then moves from beginning, middle and end becoming a story itself. Obviously, the various content and genres available in scripture mean that sermons look different from one another. An orienting text such as Proverbs or James is much more hard and fast than Jesus’ explanations of the Kingdom in the gospels. Sermons should reflect the nature of the text being preached. When Jesus says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” the Savior is allowing for imagination, He’s encouraging it. “Thou shalt not kill…” is a different kind of text, birthing a different type of sermon. Therefore, you do what the text does.

Assume relevance. Preachers prostitute the text with points when they think no one will care what the text actually says. As a matter of fact, I recently heard a preacher that I like and respect say, “I want to share 4 points with you. Now, I just made these up…” Really? What he’s actually saying is, “I don’t think this text is relevant to your felt needs, so I’m going to make it relevant. Therefore, I will twist and turn this text into an answer to a question.” I may be naive, but I’m going to assume the text is relevant. Not all texts are relevant at all times and in the same way; that’s a pastoral decision for you to make in the planning process. The idea many write sermons with is that these events happened long ago and life has changed so drastically that I must close the distance between my congregation and the Bible. Unfortunately, this move actually increases the distance and leads listeners to the unfounded belief that scripture is boring and just not for them. Any faithful Bible student knows, however, that Scripture is incredibly present. It just takes reading and faith.

(to be continued…)

As a congregant you have a significant role to play in helping your preacher preach better. In the last post, we talked a little about time and the effect lack of time can have on sermon preparation. Think about this: After Seinfeld went off television, Jerry Seinfeld decided to retire all his old stand-up material (watch the movie, “Comedian”). He spent the next year crafting a new act. After a year, Seinfeld had 30-minutes worth of material. That’s right ONE YEAR! 30 MINUTES!

Guess what? Your preacher does 30 minutes every week!

Could he or she do less? Probably. But here’s my point: Many of us have been in church so long that we’ve forgotten or never understood what we were asking of our preacher in terms of the speech act itself. Your preacher, unlike Jerry Seinfeld, can’t simply use the same “material” over and over again and be effective. Also, read the sermons in the book of Acts. They are strikingly similar and mercifully short. Churches, however, asks their minister to speak a fresh word every week and sometimes to speak multiple fresh words throughout the week. Hear me correctly, this isn’t a preacher complaining about his job. Complaining is fruitless. It is, however, one preacher asking you to help your preacher preach better by understanding what they are up against. And here’s how:

1. Prayer – Seems obvious, but I’ve known preachers who were cursed more than they were prayed for. The prayers won’t just changed the preaching, it’ll change your heart about the preacher.

2. Feedback – Preachers are generally narcissist who are very self-conscious. (No worries, God made them this way in order to stand before great multitudes each week AND care about what’s coming out of their mouths.) But they are also overwhelmingly concerned about doing what they can to help your life and your relationship with God. When giving feedback, tell them what you LIKED, what was meaningful. Trust me, like a professional golfer walking off the 18th green, preachers know every shot they missed and where their swing was flawed. If you want more of something from your preacher, praise it. He or she is human-being, they’ll respond.

3. Force Time Away – Good preachers work all the time, they even work when they’re not supposed to be working. If you want to nurture your preacher, send them and their spouse away for a weekend. Be insistent and do what you can to make that happen. Sometimes that means paying for it yourself or with a group. You’re not paying for it because your preacher is broke, but because they’ll be less likely to turn it down if it’s paid for already.

4. Be Friends – Ask around, many preachers don’t have friends. You can be a friend. Just imagine what it would be like to stand in front of a crowd of people each week and having them ALL want something from you. It’s tiring. Try taking your preacher to a ball game, out to the movies, or to play cards. Just him or her, not their entire family, and build a genuine relationship. Here’s the inside scoop, when preachers get overtures from other churches, one of the overwhelming reasons they stay put, is friends.

You’ll notice that all the ways to help your preacher are relational, not technical. I bet relational connectedness is his or her greatest felt need. The best preachers I’ve known felt relationally connected to their congregation. They didn’t just look connected – which is different. They felt connected. Here’s the thing: There’s only one way to find out if your preacher feels connected and loved rather than looks connected and loves, you have to ask them.

Crazy as it sounds, your preacher might be a better preacher if they could focus on preaching. That’s right, someone finally said it! Truth is, many churches require so much of their pastor that they hardly have anytime to prepare to preach.

Preparing to preach isn’t necessarily difficult week-to-week, but it is time consuming. There’s language study, historical/critical review, prayer, devotional time in the text, reading, reflecting, constructing, importing creative elements, story-building, writing and delivery. All that takes time, but so does visitation, prayer for the sick, staff meetings and leading, building use and facility concerns, other teaching responsibilities during the week, and hosts of other activities. Many preachers have to handle all these activities themselves, so it’s no wonder that frequently many of them serve up yesterday’s leftovers from the pulpit. It’s easy to flip open the latest book and harvest 3 points here and 5 suggestions there, call it a sermon and go home.

And quite frankly, it’s less costly. The gospel is life-altering! Few people are willing to admit they don’t really care to have their lives altered. Add to that the fact that many preachers pay a heavy price for preaching what’s actually in the text rather than spewing the party line. All that leads to dishing out life-tips and pithy proverbs from the pulpit. A good friend of mine describes his preacher’s messages as “Wisdom for Ole’ Will.” It’s good wisdom, mind you; it’s just not Biblical preaching.

If you ever wonder why your preacher’s preaching is no good or shallow or fluffy or even mean-spirited, you might want to consider if they have enough time for their messages to be otherwise.

One way to change the game and add freshness to the pulpit is to free your preacher to preach. Church leaders need to surround their preacher with encouragement and make it clear to them and to the congregation which tasks their preacher is expected to do well – the first should be preaching. Regardless of the congregants individual druthers, there should be a canon of expectation determined as follows; (1) Things our preacher is expected to do well and (2) Other things they may be expected to do. There is a difference between what someone is expected to do with excellence and what one is simply expected to do. This is basic prioritizing!

There’s a lot happening at every church in America this week, yet only one person (in most churches) will be charged with feeding the entire flock.

And, regardless of what we wish were the case, Sunday morning is our best chance to impact seekers, visitors and Christ-followers alike for Kingdom living and missional impact. Plus, it’s often the only chance we get! Every element of the Sunday experience needs to be clear, powerful and prepared as well as possible. That means your preacher needs to have something worth hearing to say. I’ve known preachers who stay up until 1am Saturday night pasting together a jagged collage of a sermon they had no time to craft during the week. That is both disrespectful to the hearers and dismissive of the Word of God

I’m fortunate to be a place where I can turn on the DO NOT DISTURB light on my phone, shut my office door and craft a message. I hope my church and the Kingdom of God are better because of it. And I wish more of my friends and colleagues were free to do the same. Help them out if you can!

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Resources for crafting messages that connect and make an impact.

Fred Craddock’s “Preaching

Andy Stanley  “Communicating For A Change

David Buttrick “Homiletic Moves and Structures